Dignity Should Not Be a District-by-District Decision

The following testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on Education on June 25, 2019.

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Chairman Lewis, Chairwoman Peisch, and members of the Joint Education Committee: 

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide grassroots advocacy organization fighting for progressive policy. 

One of the planks in our organization’s platform is an “All means all” agenda of racial and social justice. That means ensuring that underrepresented communities are treated with dignity and respect. 

The reduction of Native American identity to “mascot” status is the opposite of that. We would like to go on record in support of Bill S.247/H.443 (An Act Prohibiting the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth). 

Such mascots have serious social and emotional consequences for Native American youth, including lower self-esteem and more hostile school climates. For non-Native people, they promote a false understanding of Native Americans and culturally insensitive behaviors and stereotypes. 

Whether or not someone’s dignity and rights are respected should not be a factor of which school they attend or in which city or town they live. This is a state matter. 

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has been fighting to eliminate Native American mascots since the 1960s. Here in Massachusetts, the Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation, Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and Nipmuc Nation have all called for the elimination of such mascots, and they are joined nationally by such organizations as the National Education Association, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the American Psychological Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

 

It’s time we listen. 

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